Progression of Story Lines in Gaming

Video games are quickly standardizing themselves as the leaders of modern story-telling. Whereas novels, short stories, and poetry have been the former vessels of fiction, video games are adding an element previously unharnessed – interactivity. Video game developers are creating environments which are all-encompassing in that they often contain ancient lore, mysterious lands, and unimaginable inhabitants of those lands. And the way all these things are tied together is through the interactivity between the player and the character(s). Although one could attest to the imaginative interactivity that occurs between a reader of a novel and the work itself, there would be no mention of how the reader decides how the character progresses. This is another trait that video games hold over traditional story-telling. Take, for instance, the Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim:

Developed by Bethesda studios, Skyrim is a game whose scope in terms of exploration, lore, and submersion into the environment, is only outmatched by Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs but, unlike MMORPGs, it does not require a monthly subscription. The real peak of the game, in my opinion, is the story-telling. There is a main storyline involving a character who is said to be “dragon borne” and who can wield the abilities of dragons and eventually even summon a dragon himself. But what even outshines the main quest line is the fact that the player has the choice to do the main quest or to progress in various guilds which will afford the player loot, abilities, and, most importantly, distinctly character-building story lines. What is markedly different from this type of story-telling is that it is non-linear.

Novels and short stories typically progress in a linear fashion and even if events unfold at various points within the story, the character is set up to be built a specific way in the readers’ minds. This is not the case with video games like Skyrim. Skyrim represents non-linear story-telling which is remarkable because it gives the player the option to create their own legacy in the manner and order they choose. Even the way in which the story line is presented is fascinating. Where one previously had to imagine the look of the character and setting, these are now in presented in stunning resolution. The inhabitants of the game are not static in the least bit, and move about freely, seemingly carrying out their lives. When the player chooses to interact with these inhabitants, known as NPCs (non-playable characters), they can either speak to them, which leads to various conversational devices, or they can choose to combat them. Either way, the NPCs elicit responses that don’t require any imagination but instead inspire reaction. They seem to have emotions and they react to each other just as much as to the player. All this makes for an experience which steeps the player into a world that is wholly believable and it is all thanks to the game’s use of non-linear story-telling.

But, there are games which follow a linear storyline and, in fact, you progress through these games without much free reign to determine where you take your characters. Even these types of games have managed to supersede previous linear story lines. One worth mention is Final Fantasy XIII:

 Aside from the visuals and gameplay, Final Fantasy XIII is most notable for creating a world that has a storyline all its own. To the dismay of many fans of the series, the game does not necessarily focus on any character, but instead has the player unfolding the plight of the world in which the characters live. While there is a character that the player predominantly uses, there are times in the game when the lead character shifts in order to go along with the story line which, to water down, is centered around the world of Cocoon which is only a small part of the larger over world known as Gran Pulse. Through propaganda and political corruption, the citizens of Cocoon have been duped into believing that only chaos reigns in the world of Pule below them. The story line draws in elements surrounding crystals and the transformation of various individuals into mindless monsters, all of which are the effects of the disparity between Cocoon and Pulse.

The story is intricate and enthralling and it is interesting to imagine it being presented as a novel because the thing is, it absolutely could be a novel. Instead, it is fully-fleshed, interactive experience that has had a lasting effect on video gamers and the video game industry alike.

  1 comment for “Progression of Story Lines in Gaming

  1. davidadas
    January 26, 2012 at 2:41 am

    I actually wrote a great deal about this in Professor Whalen’s 201 course last semester. Believe it or not, I was fortunate enough to intern for Bethesda in 2009 (working specifically on the Fallout 3 expansions). As you noted quite accurately in your blog post here, there is indeed a distinct philosophy that Bethesda builds their games on. In class today, actually, Professor Whalen discussed a particular game that is often cited as the first in that genre: Pedit5. It has, of course, progressed significantly over the years — but there are still many fine examples of the philosophy in development today. If you enjoyed Skyrim you might also try the new Deus Ex: Human Revolution game as well. The two games were pretty much fathered by the same person, so you can expect the same solid story, game mechanics, open ended worlds, etc. <—- I would also recommend this as well. Not entirely complete or fully accurate, but a good wiki all the same.

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